The NBA Inks Equality Protections While the Federal Government Lags Behind

NBA players are going back to work, albeit ceding some basketball-related income to owners. But for gay players in the league, what was lost in monetary value may be lightened by the celebration of new anti-discrimination protection. With the ratification of the new 10-year collective bargaining agreement, the NBA added sexual orientation to the non-discrimination provisions in its union contract.

A lockout surrounded by stubbornness and dizzying litigation now seems more patched than fixed. However, through the thicket of salary caps and revenue sharing came a long-overdue solution to a problem much more crucial than an overpaid, mediocre NBA player: a player's right to a basketball career, uninhibited by sexual orientation discrimination in front offices.

"Players should be judged on their skill and drive on the basketball court, not their sexual orientation," says Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, a national organization committed to ending all career discrimination.

Almeida explains that if a player were to face harassment or workplace retaliation after coming out, the non-discrimination provisions in the new union contract will create legally enforceable protections. However, he notes, "these protections are unfortunately still missing in federal law as well as the state laws in a majority of states in our country."

Sixteen of 30 NBA teams are located in states where it is legal to fire or harass a player just for being gay -- two of which were the participating teams in the 2011 Finals, the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat. A minority of U.S. states offers workplace protections for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) employees.

While following the lead of other professional leagues like the National Football League and Major League Baseball, the NBA should be proud of its move. Nonetheless it is sad to note that the league, in doing this, is striding ahead of federal law, which still does not outlaw anti-gay discrimination in the workplace.

"The U.S. Congress should follow the lead of the NBA by banning workplace discrimination against LGBT Americans," says Almeida.

In the meantime, Freedom to Work calls on the president to take action. Added Almeida: "While the current do-nothing Congress delays on this and other bills to strengthen American jobs, President Obama should sign an ENDA Executive Order granting LGBT Americans the freedom to work for federal contractors without fear of harassment or discrimination on the job."

Federal contractors account for almost 22 percent of all jobs in the United States, so with his signature alone, the president could bring basic fairness to many millions of Americans. "There is no reason to wait any longer," says Almeida.